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What Is Chancroid?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 19, 2021

Chancroid is a very contagious sexually transmitted disease (STD). It is dangerous because once you have it, it may increase your risk for other health conditions, too. What exactly is chancroid, and how can you treat and prevent it?

Understanding Chancroid

Chancroid is an STD caused by bacteria called Haemophilus ducreyi. It causes bumps that may feel tender when you touch them. The bumps fill with pus and may open up and become sores. These sores are most often on the genitals and are called ulcers. While chancroid is easily treatable, it also spreads very easily.

Another common symptom of chancroid is swelling of the lymph nodes, or small glands, in your groin. When your lymph nodes are swollen, that is a sign that your body is fighting off bacteria or infection.

Chancroid is not a common STD in the United States and is mostly found in Africa and the Caribbean, where it causes sporadic outbreaks.

Chancroid transmission. Chancroid is passed from person to person in two ways. The first is sexual contact with a person who has open sores. The second is when the pus-like fluid from the sores is passed from person to person through other physical contact. If you have chancroid sores, touch one of them, and then touch another person, you may pass the infection to them.

A person will experience symptoms of chancroid within four to ten days of being exposed to the bacteria.

Who can get chancroid? Anyone can get chancroid by coming in contact with the bacteria that causes it. However, men are more likely to be diagnosed with chancroid than women.

Women who have chancroid are often asymptomatic (meaning that they have no symptoms), or they may only have sores inside their vagina. Their only visible symptom may be swollen lymph nodes, which they might not notice if they have no other symptoms or medical problems.

Symptoms of Chancroid

Painful ulcers. The most common symptom of chancroid is painful open sores. Sores from chancroid may go away quickly, but they can last for weeks or months.

Swollen lymph nodes. In some cases, chancroid also causes swollen, painful lymph nodes around the groin.

Diagnosing and Treating Chancroid

Diagnosing chancroid. Symptoms of chancroid are often similar to those of other STDs. To diagnose chancroid, your doctor will take a swab of your ulcer and send it to a lab to see if the Haemophilus ducreyi bacteria is present.‌

Chance of reinfection. Having chancroid once does not make you immune to the bacteria. You may be reinfected after your sores are treated and go away.

Treating chancroid. Your doctor will treat your chancroid with antibiotics. With proper care and treatment, you can expect your sores to heal within two weeks.

While you are recovering, you must follow guidelines to make sure that you heal properly:

  • Don't have sex until your sores are completely healed
  • Keep the area around your sores clean and dry‌
  • Don’t wear tight-fitting clothes that may irritate your sores

Preventing Chancroid

Prevention. The best way to avoid getting chancroid is to avoid having sex. However, if you are sexually active, you can take these steps to reduce your chance of getting chancroid: 

  • Limit your number of sexual partners 
  • Don't have sexual contact with a person who has open sores on their genitals or groin‌
  • Always use a condom during sex to reduce your chance of getting chancroid and other STDs

‌If you think you may have chancroid, do not have sexual contact with any of your partners until you talk to a doctor. Go to urgent care, an STD clinic, or the hospital. A doctor will talk to you about your symptoms, examine the affected area, and swab it to send a sample for testing.

If you find out that you have chancroid, tell all of your sexual partners so that they can also seek treatment. Do not have any sexual contact until you have finished your medication and all of your sores have completely healed. Your doctor may schedule you for a follow-up appointment to make sure that your ulcers are healed and that you don’t need further treatment.

Chancroid Risks

Ineffective treatment. Men who are not circumcised and people living with HIV may not respond to typical chancroid treatment. If you are in one of these higher-risk categories, talk to your doctor about other steps you can take to help your ulcers heal.‌

Other health conditions. The open sores that chancroid causes make you more susceptible to other bacteria. The greatest risk of chancroid is that you are more likely to contract HIV while you are infected with chancroid.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Chancroid.”

Illinois Department of Public Health: “Chancroid.”

New York State Department of Health: “Chancroid (soft chancre).”

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